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Backchecking and Killing Rats

Perron Backchecks, de la Rose does too, and a Non-Controversy

NHL: Arizona Coyotes at St. Louis Blues Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

This story first appeared on Page 5 (The Five Hole) of the Nov. 16, 2019 edition of the St. Louis Game Time paper, sold outside of every Blues home game. For more information or to subscribe, email gtbradlee@gmail.com

Maybe you’ve heard about the Mighty Ducks reboot in the works, via the new Disney streaming service. Filming is to begin in February; supposedly the series will feature a 13-year-old getting kicked off his team, whereupon his mom decides they should start their own squad.

Wanna feel like your childhood was a waste and like everything you believed in was wrong? Go back and watch the original Mighty Ducks movies.

A quick YouTube search turns up the scene where the Ducks are playing the big, bad, Hawks. This is a highly decorated Hawks team; they’ve won the league championship a hundred years in a row. They’re coached by an amalgam of Scotty Bowman and Bobby Knight. The players are maniacally dialed in on victory. When the coach tells them to intentionally injure their friend and former teammate, Adam Banks, they do it.

Then, holding a 4-2 lead with less than five minutes to play in the third period of the championship game, all six Hawks on the ice are absolutely mesmerized — dumbfounded, nonplussed! — when figure-skater-turned forward Tammie Duncan executes a corkscrew spin near the front of the Hawks’ net. She releases the spin, receives a pass, and puts it home to trim the lead to one.

Part of me is ashamed of my eight-year-old self for buying it. And buy it, I did — hook, line, and sinker. All of us ‘90s kids did. But another part of me wishes I could still believe the unbelievable.

Five thoughts from the tube back out of town.

1. ‘Defensively responsible’ and ‘David Perron’ don’t usually go together. But his sprint back into the defensive zone and diving play to break up a Coyotes scoring chance on Tuesday was a thing of beauty. (Yes, it was he who got beat at the offensive blue line in the first place, but still.)

2. Perhaps Perron learned the art of backchecking from Jacob de la Rose. According to people who’ve watched him critically throughout his NHL career, de la Rose is an elite backchecker. The problem, of course, is that in order to become a great backchecker, you need a lot of practice at it. And if you’re getting a lot of practice at it, then the puck is probably going the wrong direction when you’re on the ice.

One of my all-time favorite quotes about hockey is from Kent Wilson, and it applies here:

3. A potentially controversial play took place during the second period on Tuesday, and no one noticed. Brayden Schenn had the puck in the offensive zone and fired a pass across the ice, hoping to hit Jaden Schwartz. Coyotes defenseman Jason Demers reached out his stick and deflected the pass. The puck flew over the boards.

NHL Rule 63, Delaying the Game, reads in part: “When any player shoots or bats (using his hand or his stick) the puck directly (non-deflected) out of the playing surface from his defending zone, except where there is no glass, a penalty shall be assessed for delaying the game.” (My clarification: The term “non-deflected” here means the puck went directly out of play without first hitting the boards or another player.)

So, how was that Demers play not a penalty? The referees didn’t even get together to chat, the way they often do when a puck goes out of play from the d-zone. To me, that says these kinds of tip plays are not even under consideration for penalties. According to the letter of the law, they should be. We see delay-of-game penalties called all the time where a puck is in the air and a defending player accidentally bats it over the glass. But how, philosophically, is the Demers play any different?

4. Just me, or has Jordan Binnington been particularly good this year against breakaways? It feels like he’s faced one every other game. I don’t think he’s let one in.

5. Colton Parayko scored on Tuesday. John Kelly told us that it was his first regular season goal since Feb. 19 vs. Toronto, which happened to be the Blues’ 11th straight win. It occurred to me: We’re used to the “regular season” qualifier meaning very little because it’s usually a difference of five, six, maybe seven games. But the Blues played 26 playoff games last year. They won 16 of them. That’s the number you need in order to win the Stanley Cup, which is a thing the Blues — the St. Louis Hockey Blues — did.

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If you enjoyed this story — and even if you didn’t — you should check out my book, Ticketless: How Sneaking Into The Super Bowl And Everything Else (Almost) Held My Life Together.